Happily, more and more parents are trying to cultivate good eating habits in their children at home and at school, and are educating themselves on nutrition. This is good news because the shift towards healthier food is becoming irreversible. But what about the annual birthday party, with its tradition of high-sugar foods and loaded goodie bags – how do we cope here?
Children are sociable party animals and love to celebrate birthdays, with most of them wanting a ‘classic’ party with lots of brightly coloured treats to excite them and their friends. A generation ago children’s parties started at around the age of three, and much of the fare was home-made. Today children begin their birthday parties from year one, and parents have become peer pressured into providing tables groaning with fat-laden snacks and bought confectionery, along with lavish entertainment.
Parties are a minefield, especially for children with food sensitivities. Imagine giving your little one 22 teaspoons of sugar all at once? Well, one way to do it would be to let her have 2 chocolate digestive biscuits, 1 small fruit yoghurt, 1 tube of smarties, 1 scoop of ice cream, 2 teaspoons of tomato ketchup and 1 small chocolate bar. Of course if you add a coke she’d be having 30 teaspoons! It takes only 8 teaspoons to momentarily shut down her immune system, providing opportunity for the ubiquitous childhood viruses to take hold. No wonder children often come down with colds after birthday parties.
SO NOW WHAT?
What are we to do when the birthday party invitations come rolling in? Look the other way because ‘it’s only one day in the year’? But hang on – regular party food might look good, but neither the children nor the parents really like it! Remember the bags of half-eaten gaudily iced cupcakes you threw away last year… But if we do away with the standard hot dogs, sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks, what’s left? Children want fun and exciting food to offer their friends, so it’s no good giving them bowls of salad – their friends won’t come back in a hurry.
- Starting with the birthday cake – which absolutely must look festive – make a healthy carrot cake and use cream cheese with xylitol for the frosting. Decorate it in the normal way, but avoid colourants and hundreds and thousands or those little silver balls – try fresh flowers instead. Food colouring includes toxic ingredients, but a few drops of beetroot juice will make a lovely pink colour.
- Instead of regular jelly, mix real fruit juice with an agar-based gelling mix; pour the mixture into ice trays and add small pieces of real fruit or perhaps flower petals if you have a garden. Borage flowers look wonderful in jellied apple juice.
- Home-made cheese straws are very easy to make and children love them. Use oat flour and real cheese, not those highly coloured substitutes.
- A platter of mixed crudités is always a winner. Use strips of carrot, cucumber, red pepper and cherry tomatoes, with an avocado cream cheese dip.
- Try little chunks of good cheese with a grape on toothpicks.
- Make a second platter of fresh fruit, with the top of a pineapple as a centrepiece. Use chunks of kiwi and pineapple, segments of naartjie or clementine, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, bananas, and green and black grapes. Spaced in between as a special treat, some of the fruit could be dipped in melted organic dark chocolate – but make sure there are enough pieces to go around!
- Popcorn is an eternal favourite. Children enjoy it plain, so don’t get carried away with butter and sugar or salt.
- Make frozen lollies in plastic moulds using your own blended fresh fruit or juiced fruit.
- Make fairy cakes from your own from your own healthy carrot cake recipe – a dab of cream-cheese sweetened with xylitol under the ‘wings’ and on top will make delicious butterflies. Sprinkle with grated organic chocolate and almond flakes.
- Put out bowls of raw cashews, mixed with sulphur-free organic raisins or banana chips (make sure that no children have nut sensitivities).
- Put mixed chunks of fruit on skewers – make these small enough for little hands to hold and remember to cut off the sharp skewer ends! Place them on a baking tray and cover with a sauce made from melted butter, lime juice and a little honey. Bake until warmed through, basting frequently, and serve cold.
- Make your own chicken nuggets – far better than those mass-produced pieces of rubber. Roll pieces of free-range chicken in oat flour and freeze for 15 minutes. Fry them gently in a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and butter until golden-brown, then bake in the oven at 180°C for three-quarters of an hour.
- Home-made chips are quick and easy to make. Chop potatoes and sweet potatoes into chip shapes and brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle dried oregano over the potatoes and bake at 190°C for 40 – 45 minutes, turning now and again until golden-brown.
- For alternative lemonade, dissolve a cup of xylitol in a cup of boiling water and add half a teaspoon of citric acid. Keep in a bottle in the fridge. Drizzle small amounts into glasses and top with sparkling water and a slice of orange or lemon.
- Keep jugs of water with mint sprigs, orange and lemon slices and mini ice-blocks on the table.
- Party bags are sometimes still de rigueur, but instead of sending children home loaded with sticky sweets, include things like small bags of marbles, little note pads and crayons, stick- on earrings, stickers, balloons, rubbers, organic raisins or dried fruit. If your birthday child insists on some sweets being included, squares of dark organic chocolate should fit the bill.
After a spread like this children will go home relaxed, happy and ready for an early night, and probably won’t need much for supper – but they’ll have tummies filled with real food and toxic loads will be at a minimum. Make sure there are lots of decorations to give a party atmosphere, and give the planet a thought by using natural materials like paper and foliage from the garden instead of plastic. Have a treasure hunt outside and play some of the old-fashioned games you played as a child like pass-the-parcel and the egg-and-spoon and three-legged races, instead of having a jumping castle. Young children want grown-ups to share in their games so get involved and have simple healthy fun and food with your children!
Recommended reading and resources
- Palmer S. Toxic Childhood. London: Orion Books, 2006.
- Fallon S, Enig M. Nourishing Traditions. Washington, DC: New Trend Publishing, 2007.
- Harvey G. We Want Real Food. London: Constable & Robinson, 2006.
- Blythman J. The Food Our Children Eat. London: Fourth Estate, 1999.